How to Choose a Husband by Suzanne Venker - book review by Evan Marc Katz

What I’m about to say may not be very popular with my readership. That’s okay. I’m not here to win any popularity contests.

I’m here to give solid reality-based relationship advice. Such advice is not based on what I want personally; rather, it’s based on what is most effective in relating to the opposite sex.

So it’s with considerable ambivalence that I decided to review Suzanne Venker’s “How to Choose a Husband” today. It’s an easy read – I finished the book in one night – and Venker’s got a decidedly colloquial writing style. The reason I’m ambivalent about it is that while Venker’s actual relationship advice is really good, her judgmental opinions may blind you to her wisdom. Which is a shame. Like Lori Gottlieb, who got raked over the coals for writing a book for smart women who want to get married and have kids, Venker has taken a ton of heat herself – some of it deserved, some undeserved.

She holds special contempt for feminists, Hollywood, liberals, atheists, and casual sex, and since I believe in all five of those things, I could feel the heat rising when I learned how folks like me are unable to have successful and meaningful relationships. This is, on the surface, not true, and it’s a shame that Venker couldn’t have found a little more subtlety and nuance in making her case. Because her case is actually quite a compelling one. And it’s one I’ve been making on the pages of this blog for six years.

Like Lori Gottlieb, who got raked over the coals for writing a book for smart women who want to get married and have kids, Venker has taken a ton of heat herself – some of it deserved, some undeserved.

-Marriage isn’t always a passionfest.

-Men aren’t bad, or even worse than women.

-Being too busy, too difficult, too opinionated, and too arrogant are big problems for women (and men) looking for love.

-There are many women who have spent so much time working that they’ve lost touch with what makes them appealing to men. It’s not that we don’t love your fertile minds; it’s that if you’re working 60 hours a week, training for a marathon, and telling us how we need to change for you, we might just choose women who are a little more available, warm and supportive.

Any arguments so far? No? Then you should have no trouble with Venker’s relationship advice either (except for the fact that it comes from a very judgmental conservative):

From p. 9 “Marriage isn’t a power struggle; it’s a partnership. Unless your husband’s a Neanderthal – in which case, why’d you marry him in the first place? – he’s not the least bit interested in seizing your identity. Most men don’t want a doormat for a wife. One of the greatest ironies of feminism is that it never even occurs to the average husband to do the thing his wife is steeling herself against. In most cases, all that energy spent putting up a shield is for naught”.

From p. 32 “People’s priorities change when they get married. When you’re single, life outside of work is largely without obligations or sacrifice. When you’re married with children, you learn the art of compromise and unconditional love…. Growth hand in hand with a like minded person is the point – not growth in order to meet a like minded person. Unless the goal is to marry a mirror image of yourself (with a penis), there’s no need to become the person you want to attract.”

From p. 36 “No other role in your life will require more selflessness than being a wife an mother. If you want to be successful at it, you need to start thinking about other people’s needs. You need to ignore all that coddling you’ve been given and stop thinking in terms of what you think you deserve or are entitled to. To have a fulfilling, beautiful life – the best life you can have – you don’t need to find yourself. You need to get over yourself.”

There is much to disagree with in “How to Choose a Husband”, particularly the author’s distaste for anyone who is not like her, but the one thing I don’t disagree with is her advice.

This is so true. And if this sounds offensive being told to women, if you saw this exact same advice for men, you’d say HELL YEAH. Wouldn’t you?

“Guys, get over yourself. Be self-aware. Don’t be so selfish. Communicate more. Give us women what we need!”

From p. 45 “Women have no idea how to use their femininity to their advantage, so they end up rearing their heads, trying to be something they’re not. Instead of becoming wives, they become competitors. This is the number one mistake women make… Men like to chase women and women like to be chased – that’s just the way it is. Don’t become the hunter. Don’t call a guy or make the first move. Don’t try to take charge or be in control. That’s what men are supposed to do. Let them.

A woman’s femininity is unique and powerful. It does not lower a woman’s status, nor does it preclude her from being an independent woman. In fact, many men prefer their wives are independent. So, go. Do what you want with your life – no one’s stopping you. Just don’t try to compete with your husband. He doesn’t want a competitor; he has plenty of those. At the end of the day, what a man wants is a partner and companion who’s concerned with his needs as much as her own, maybe even more.”

From p. 55 “Please read this carefully: you can never, ever, change your man. Ever. Did I say ever? Ever. You can’t love a man so hard and so well that your problems will magically disappear. You can’t convince him to see life your way if he doesn’t… Bottom line: if you don’t love a man exactly as he is, even if he never changes a stinkin’ thing, get out.

From p. 70 “We must stop instilling in women this idea that their lives have in store for them something profound, something magical, something so great it belies description. Unrealistic expectations set up a false reality, and real life can only be disappointing.”

I said nearly the exact same thing in “Marry Him”: “If you didn’t have the fantasy, reality would be just fine”. It’s the “Eat, Pray, Love” model of relationships: holding out for some fantasy man who is perfect and transcendent and feeling that anything less is settling. It’s simply not true.

Venker continues about the principles of having a happy marriage.

From p. 119 “Unless you marry a cad, what you bring to the marriage table may very likely determine the fate of your marriage. Put another way: it’s not what your guy can do for you, but what you can do for your guy? That’s the attitude you need going forward…. (I would give this exact same advice to men, by the way – EMK) Being married isn’t nearly as difficult as you’ve been led to believe – most men are supremely easy to get along with. If you treat your husband well, he will be your greatest support and defender. If you treat him poorly, he’ll either bark or hang his head and walk away. Wives have much more power than they realize.”

From p. 122 “I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “you’ll attract more bees with honey than you will with vinegar.” This is the very aspect of human nature against which feminists have rebelled. To them, being sweet means being a doormat. They are wrong. Being feminine – kind, soft, nurturing, or whatever adjective you prefer – is only suffocating if you’re in love with a Neanderthal…. Most men are much nicer than feminists would have you believe. And if you treat them with honey as opposed to vinegar, you’d be surprised what you’ll get in return.”

From p. 132 “Bottom line: there are more important things in life than work. Like love. I have the most loving husband in the world. He’s as committed to the message of this book as I am (and to my writing career in general) but like me, gets frustrated with the lack of time to get it all done. Time -not men, employers, or the way the system is rigged – is the real culprit when it comes to having it all.”

There is much to disagree with in “How to Choose a Husband”, particularly the author’s distaste for anyone who is not like her, but the one thing I don’t disagree with is her advice.

You may want to shoot the messenger, but don’t ignore the message.

To read the book, click here.

Your respectful comments are appreciated below.